The Son of Tarzan

The Son of Tarzan is probably one of the most awesome books I’ve read.  Tarzan of the Apes is great and all, but The Son of Tarzan completely blew it out of the water, and was superior in nearly every way.

Like Tarzan, it’s protagonist, Jack Clayton, aka Korak, the Killer, is unapologetically badass.

The Son of Tarzan has even bigger thrills, more actiony twists and turns, over half a dozen colorful and vivid villains, a better love triangle, and an infinitely better love interest.

Let’s face it, as great as Tarzan of the  Apes was, things kinda take a slump when the Porters, Philander and Clayton show up, and Jane doesn’t really have a lot going for her as a love interest other than “first white woman Tarzan rescues”. While she does have a few moments of delicious snark, the fact that Tarzan loses her in the first book to a rather disagreeable ponce like Cecil Clayton does little to endear us to her.  Meriem is everything Jane Porter is not.

Really, The Son of Tarzan could’ve just as easily been called The Daughter-in-Law of Tarzan.  Though the narratives’ focus on Meriem doesn’t ratchet up into high gear until the middle of the novel, Burroughs has given us something that the first book lacked – a co-protagonist who is genuinely worthy of the affections of the badass male lead and who is awesome in her own right. Meriem, a French girl who was kidnapped by a Sheik to avenge the death of his nephew, is rescued from her abusive “father” by Korak; rather than be a load who’s always in need of rescuing, Jungle-life turns her into a badass. During a fight in which an evil ape-king tries to kidnap her, it’s Meriem who delivers the killing blow as Korak and the ape wrestle. When the evil Swede tries to rape her, she manages to grab his pistol off him and, when she finds out it’s not loaded, pistolwhips him senseless with it so she can make a break for it.

During the time she spends with Big Bwana (who is later revealed to be Tarzan) following circumstances that led both her and Korak to believe one another dead, Meriem transforms into an awesome hybrid of beautiful, sophisticated young woman of culture and jungle-princess who talks with monkeys, hunt and swing through the trees.  Part of the twist ending is that her father, though he refused to use the title as a staunch republican, was a prince, so Meriem is LITERALLY a jungle-princess.

Also, Morison Baynes is far superior to Cecil Clayton as the romantic false lead. Clayton’s kind of a flat boring ‘nice guy’ who’s jealous that the girl he likes keeps getting rescued by a mighty Adonis.  Baynes, on the other hand, is a real heel, though a) he hides it from Meriem early on and b)it means he gets to have a great heel-face-turn. Baynes wants Meriem cuz she’s hot, and he plans on running away with her, but his big secret is he doesn’t plan on marrying her because he thinks she’s just an Arab. When his plan to get her out from under Bwana/Tarzan’s roof goes awry, and he realizes that whatever the Swede has in store for Meriem is not much better than what he was doing, he’s faced with a choice – cry about it or fight his way through countless miles of jungle to become awesome and rescue her.

His face and hands were scratched and smeared with dried blood from the wounds he had come by in thorn and thicket. His clothes were tatters. But through the blood and the dirt and the rags a new Baynes shone forth-a handsomer Baynes than the dandy and the fop of yore.

In the heart and soul of every son of woman lies the germ of manhood and honor. Remorse for a scurvy act, and an honorable desire to right the wrong he had done to the woman he now knew he really loved had excited these germs to rapid growht in Morison Baynes-and the metamorphosis had taken place.

So, by the end, we have Baynes and Korak trying to rescue Meriem, Korak rescuing Baynes, Meriem and Baynes trying to rescue Korak, and Tarzan coming in with his army of loyal natives to rescue everybody. Of course, Meriem still has to make her choice between the man she loved and had thought was dead and the man she considered running away with, who had changed who he was, confessing his crimes against her.

Rather than the ending with the poor vexed Jane Porter letting her doubts and fears lead her to promising her hand to that weenie Clayton, this is what we get: Tarzan sends Meriem off with the injured Baynes – he’s going off into the jungle to look for Korak, who’d taken on an entire village of blacks and Arabs to buy Meriem and Baynes time to escape, been subdued and tied to stake to be burned alive, rescued by Tantor the elephant and taken into the jungle but still unable to break his bonds, slowly dying of thirst. Tarzan shows up to find Meriem, having tried to cut Korak’s bonds, facing off with a confused and angry Tantor!  Tarzan asks her what the hell she was doing there.

“You told me,” she said, in a very small voice, “that my place was beside the man I loved,”

Jack is re-united with his mother and father, everyone goes back to England, Jack and Meriem get married, Jane’s thrilled that she has a real daughter, Meriem is re-united with her father, whom Tarzan meets through their mutual friend D’Arcot (his French buddy in the first book), Meriem turns out to be a princess, the huge reward for the safe return of Meriem is ostensibly their wedding gift, and everyone lives happily ever after until the next Tarzan book comes out a few months later!

I don’t know how many more Tarzan books I plan on reading; of course I’ll finish this omnibus, I’ve already got book 3, and I REALLY need to read the second book where Tarzan and Jane get things sorted out, but a part of me wants to read more adventures of Korak and Meriem than the old man himself. Unfortunately for me, Korak only shows up (as an adult, anyway) in three other Tarzan books (8-10) before being put on a bus with the rest of the extended cast.

The Nobility of Tarzan

Yesterday, I’d thrown together a little something about Tarzan as an exploration of Rousseau, but in the end, I tossed it out when I did some checking and found out that Burroughs hadn’t heard of the Frenchman when he wrote Tarzan. That probably explains why the thesis of “natural man as the ideal” falls apart in so many places in Tarzan. While Tarzan himself is a superman in part because of his affinity with nature and wild upbringing, that wild and savage state he lives in only a small piece of it, else his fellow apes and the tribesmen he encounters would be just as “noble” in their savagery.

It should be noted that Rousseau’s “natural man” is not the “noble savage” concept as we generally understand it, but rather a state where a man has developed a general animal goodness rather than a morality that is constricted by traditions and society. Right and wrong are not a question for the savage man.

Though one can make the case for Tarzan’s nobility coming from his savage spirit untainted by civilization, the case can just as easily be made that it’s his Anglo heritage that enables him to transcend base beasthood from which his fellow apes and the tribesmen cannot escape. While one might not say that there is “civilized” intelligence in his blood, there is an inherent drive to learn and better himself which is in part attributed to the nobility of his birth to the house of Greystoke. Might there also be inborn nobility of the aristocrat? There’s a romantic notion that one finds in much writing of the 19th century and into the 20th that aristocratic qualities are bred and that nobility and poise are particular traits of ‘superior’ stock. I don’t suggest that Burroughs believed that aristocrats were better or more noble than common men, but do think he may have been playing with the trope so as to tell a wild and exciting story. It would be no different than if he’d played up some sort of in-born protestant work-ethic.

So where does this ‘natural man’, this Tarzan, fall in between other hominids he shares his jungle with? Somewhere in the middle, actually. The apes are in a state of nature but lack the inherent intellectual capacity which man has and endows Tarzan with reason and an existential sense beyond the mere need to survive; the tribesmen are, in fact, more civilized than Tarzan, as is shown through their fears and superstitions surrounding the white jungle man.

Ironically, Korak, Tarzan’s son, is far more vicious and brutal than his father when he goes into the wilds of Africa with Akut the great ape. Rather than be born into savagery, he descends into it from civilization (deteriorationism!?), and is battered down by his disillusionment with the nature of men and beasts. After approaching blacks, whites and apes with an innocent idealism (brotherhood of man kinda thing) and being thrice spurned, he develops not an instinctual fear but an intelligent hatred for his fellows who, due to their own ‘civilized’ nature, fear and attack him.  Strangely, the great apes can be lumped in with the civilized groups in Son of Tarzan because they have custom, culture and hierarchy (the Dum Dum rites, the king, and Akut’s aspirations for Korak to become leader all smack of ‘civilization’ rather than the ‘natural man’ of Rousseau). I can’t make any conclusions on Korak or his arc as I haven’t finished Son of Tarzan yet, but I might get around to it. Meriem’s ‘civilized’ suitor, who plans to abscond with her but not marry her, breaks the trope of the noble aristocrat, illustrating that the Greystokes’ goodness and noble nature, while possibly hereditary, are not necessarily linked to aristocracy any more than Tarzan’s intellect and reason could be linked to his savage environs. In fact, Korak’s wild spirit he inherited from his father developed in a perfectly civilized and aristocratic society!